The fourth annual California Craft Beer Summit, a three-day festival, industry expo and conference was held last week in Sacramento. It opened with some bad news. In his Thursday morning opening address, California Craft Beer Association Executive Director Tom McCormick announced that due to upcoming construction on the Sacramento Convention Center, the CCBA’s signature event would be moving to Long Beach in 2019.
It’s a significant loss for the city, as the 2017 event contributed over $771,000 to the region, according to the Sacramento Visitors and Conventions Bureau, and the Summit also offers a powerful spotlight to local breweries and beer bars. Most festival attendees come from outside the area, but most of the food pairing demonstrations on the expo floor involve local breweries and restaurants. Meanwhile, Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse served as this festival’s unofficial afterparty location and networking hotspot, although it apparently had competition from Capital Hop Shop and The Jungle Bird.
Of course, the news coming out of the State of the California Craft Beer Industry opening session wasn’t all bad. California is approaching 1,000 breweries, and the country is expected to surpass 7,000 breweries this year, with most of the growth occurring in small, independent businesses. Drinking local has become more important to customers than ever, and instead of recreational cannabis legalization siphoning away market share, craft beer growth has been steeper in adult-use states like California.
However, there are also some potential storm clouds on the horizon. An increased focus on local drinking means that it has become harder for breweries to thrive outside their area. The craft beer growth rate is slowing, with increasing competition for pieces of a relatively small pie. Three-quarters of craft breweries produce less than 1,000 barrels a year, accounting for less than 1% of the country’s overall volume. International beverage conglomerates and their “fake craft” labels pose a serious threat, and the unpredictable drinking habits of millennials could make for a volatile future.
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After the ups and downs of the stats-heavy opening session, though, the good vibes began to flow along with the beers. Even the morning educational sessions offered small pours of craft beer, at least among the classes in the Tasting Craft Beer track (other tracks included Selling Craft Beer, Business of Beer and Technical Brewing). Master cicerone Pat Fahey conducted flavor training classes in the early morning Tasting Craft Beer educational session, guiding attendees through a control beer (in this case, Sierra Nevada’s Nooner Pilsner) purposely infected with four types of production-related off flavors.
Other classes in the Tasting Craft Beer track included a beer and food pairing session guided by “Dr. Bill” Sysak of Wild Barrel Brewing, as well as a brief history of beer trends taught by local beer expert and tasting judge Mike Moore. We also sat in on a seminar about the legal issues regarding beer brewed with cannabis and related products like hemp seeds and CBD oils that was presented by Alva Mather of the Pennsylvania-based law firm of DLA Piper. No free samples were passed out in that class.
On the expo floor, there were food and beer pairings, chef and brewer demos, a plethora of booths and exhibits covering every conceivable aspect of the beer industry, and seven different tasting stations with rotating tap lists. With a steady supply of FiftyFifty Eclipse variations, the Sacramento area’s tasting station was one of the hottest, but with occasional pours from The Rare Barrel and Barebottle, the Bay Area guild’s tasting station was not that far behind.
Beer pioneers, raconteurs and outsized personalities like Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and UC Davis professor Charlie Bamforth held court on the Tap Talk stage, while a who’s-who of California beer legends walked the floor. Attendees could also rub elbows with pioneers like Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, Tomme Arthur of The Lost Abbey and Port or John Martin of Drake’s at the cheese- and charcuterie-heavy evening receptions.
After two straight days of weekday daytime drinking, the 2018 California Craft Beer Summit closed with the Summit Beer Festival, which took place on the Capitol Mall for the last time until at least 2021. We mostly searched out sublime sour ales from spots such as Cellador and Sante Adairius and barrel-aged dark beers from the likes of Bottle Logic and Moksa, while occasionally clearing our palates with thirst-quenching brews like Hubba Hubba, a watermelon agua fresca lager from State Brewing of Gardena.
Appropriately, two of the best beers we tasted Saturday came from Beachwood Blendery, the all-sours arm of Long Beach legends Beachwood BBQ and Brewing: a dry-hopped and barrel-aged beer with raspberries and their Belgian lambic-inspired Chaos is a Friend of Mine. With great breweries like Beachwood in the fold, Long Beach will make for a fine host city, but it’s still a shame the best beer festival in Sacramento won’t be happening here next year.